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"Steadfastly United"

Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133/1 John 1:1- 2:2/John 20:19-31

Bishop Ariel P. Santos

The gospel for this second Sunday of Easter is the scene where the disciples locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews who arrested and executed Jesus.

St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor depth nor height, [nor pandemic or viruses, or sickness, or poverty or loss of job], nothing, not even the obstacles we set up to keep God out." Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. His love is greater than our fears, doubts, self-condemnation, and weaknesses.

John says, "God is greater than our heart and He knows all things, including our struggles and doubts. Nothing stops Him from being merciful, forgiving, and bestowing His peace because that's just His nature - ever blessing, ever desiring the good of others." This is our God - the image and likeness we were created in.

After Jesus' resurrection, the first word that Jesus spoke after inaugurating the new creation or the new world was, "Peace." Actually, our English word falls short of the Hebrew word which is "Shalom". It is a wish for not just peace, but prosperity, well being, health, abundance of blessing, and fullness of life. This indicates as well that the new world, the new creation or the life of the world to come we're looking forward to is founded on this - peace, prosperity, and love for all mankind.

Jesus showed them His wounds which were reminders of the atrocity and the gross injustice done to Him and the suffering that was inflicted upon Him. There was no vengeance in His heart, mind, and words, but only a wish of well-being for the very people who vowed that they would die for Him yet denied and deserted Him at a very difficult time.These undeserving disciples were the recipients of the Holy Spirit. He breathed into them the Holy Spirit. They were not in the best spiritual shape. They did not deserve this grace or gift and yet Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. Into whom? The assembled, called the people of God, the ecclesia or the church. Psalm 133 says that it is good to behold brothers dwelling or assembling together in unity. It's in this assembly of the Church or the righteous where the Lord commanded the blessing which is life forever or Shalom.

Of course, we cannot do this assembly now physically but we can still find ways. Thank God for technology that we can still be in solidarity with the Church. Those present and close enough to Jesus received His breath. Those who were within "breath shot" received the Holy Spirit because they were close enough. So my advice to all of us is, don't "social distance" Jesus. Be within His "breath shot" so that we pick up the Holy Spirit when He breathes Him out and speaks Him into us.

In our everyday life, in our quarantine, be close to Jesus mystically - in our prayer time, in our reading of His word, in our meditation. In whatever we do, be close to Him to receive what He has to impart by His breath. Because if we're absent like Thomas or when we're not close enough to Him or not in His presence, then we tend to miss out and then doubt sets in.

Why was the Holy Spirit given? It was to empower the disciples and send them on a mission. Jesus said, "As the Father has sent Me, so I send you. In the same manner for the same reason I was sent by the Father, I send you." Why was Jesus sent? In John 3:17, Jesus said, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved through the forgiveness of their sins."

We have received this grace; grace upon grace we have received from Him. What is grace? It is something that's undeserved. It is something we give to someone who could not deserve it less. The apostles were undeserving. They received the Holy Spirit. What about justice? The disciples deserted Jesus! The spirit of the accuser, Satan, would say, "They should pay for that." In Hebrew, the accuser is one who stands opposite and points a finger and this is what the devil is. The devil uses even the Bible to condemn and to judge.

When the Pharisees brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, they quoted the Bible. She did violate the commandment in the Bible, and what did Jesus do? Jesus forgave her because forgiveness is justice. 1 John 1:1- 2:2 says, "God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us of all unrighteousness". His forgiveness is justice. Then He breathed the Holy Spirit into the apostles.

The Holy Spirit is God and in Greek, He is Paracletos. In our English translation, sometimes Paracletos is translated as Helper, and as Advocate. The word Advocate is also applied to Jesus when John said in his letter that we have an Advocate with God. But Paracletos, as Advocate, means one who is called alongside to help. A Paracletos is someone beside us with His arm on our shoulder. It is not standing opposite us with a finger pointed at us, which is the very opposite of the Holy Spirit - the enemy.

There's an erroneous understanding of justice even in Christian circles. On it is founded what is called the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement which makes no room for forgiveness. It's based on a misinterpretation of the word in the English Bible which is propitiation, meaning, the act of appeasing a deity or a person, as if God is angry and needs to be appeased or placated or pacified or mollified. This thought evokes primitive virgin or child sacrifices where they throw somebody in the volcano to appease the anger of a god.

Sometimes we reflect that in our doctrines, prayers, or songs. We have one song where we changed a couple of words because it's not very sound doctrine. The song had a line that goes, "Till on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." This is wrong. In the first place, God is not angry. He so loved the world that He gave His Son, not in anger but in love. This is Who He is. If we think that God is angry and Jesus' dying on the cross appeased His anger, this portrays God as unforgiving which is the opposite of His nature of infinite goodness and mercy. Plus, it juxtaposes the Father and the Son as if Jesus saves us not from sin but the anger of God.

Does God have to take His wrath out on someone in order to forgive and then He chooses an innocent, sinless person who is His Son no less, to vent His anger on? Is that justice? Would a father do that to his own son? Of course not! God's anger did not kill Jesus. Our sinfulness did.

The Old Testament equivalent of that word propitiation is mercy seat. In Exodus 25:17, God was commanding Moses, "You shall make a mercy seat, [mercy means propitiatory] of pure gold." Then He gave dimensions: " You shall make two cherubims of gold and put them at the two ends of the mercy seat, one at one end and the other, at the other end. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the Ark. Inside the Ark, you shall put the testimony or the law which I will give to you. There, at the mercy seat between the cherubims, I will meet with you and from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubims which are upon the Ark of the Testimony, I will speak to you."

We sing this song, "Commune with Me, between the wings of the cherubim." This is where Jesus is and God speaks through Jesus. What does He speak? Mercy, grace, peace, blessing, life forever. This is the mercy seat.

Doesn't this remind us of something we heard from last Sunday? When Mary went to the tomb, didn't she encounter two angels or cherubims? One at the feet of Jesus where He had been laid and the other, at the head? Beneath the wings of the cherubim is the mercy seat. It is Jesus giving His life. The mercy seat is the lid that covers the Ark of the Covenant inside of which is the commandment or the law which all men break but it is superimposed or covered. In other words, God put a lid on our charge sheet because God is merciful.

A famous Jewish philosopher said that the mercy seat is the symbol of God's gracious power. As an assignment, read Scriptures: Romans 3:25; , Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10. These verses contain the English word "propitiation." Replace the word propitiation with "the symbol of God's gracious power" and see what difference it will make.

St Paul said in his letter to the Colossians, "When you were dead in your sins, God made you alive with Christ and forgave your sins, having cancelled the charge of your legal indebtedness which stood against you and condemned you. He has taken it away and nailed it to the cross." He has cancelled the statement that points a finger at you and says, "You're guilty," and He put a lid on that so that where sin increased, grace abounds all the more. As sin reigned in death, so grace would reign to eternal life through Christ.

Instead of righteous indignation, and pointing out the wrong in the name of justice, God cancels the charges against us. God forgives us and He calls that forgiveness justice. We don't deserve it. That's why it's called grace - an unmerited favor. It's God's doing. It's a gift. We didn't earn it.

Jesus is a reflection of the grace of God. We do not have a good cop, bad cop in the Son and the Father. Jesus told His disciples, "If you forgive the sins of any, they will be forgiven. If you don't forgive their sins, they will be retained" Jesus was not giving them a choice because just prior to that He told them, "As the Father sent Me, I also send you." What was the purpose why Jesus was sent into the world? Not to condemn the world but that the world, through Him, might be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.

In the same way, our purpose is to forgive sins. Our mission is to proclaim God's forgiveness, not to evaluate who deserves it or not. Even if people don't deserve it, it is called grace.

We live in a world where much of it is parched wilderness, dry, and waterless. Like the song says, we are called to flood the nations with grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, and blessing. because we have received the same. Freely we have received, we are to freely give. When we forgive sins, we proclaim God's gracious power and mercy.

John said, "What we have seen, heard, touched, tasted - the goodness, mercy, and grace of God - we proclaim to you so that our joy may be made complete, not so we can earn God's grace [it's been given] but so that our joy may be full." Knowing God gives us joy but making Him known makes this joy full for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.


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